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Acequias Defend Use of Spanish Language

David Benavides Attorney with NM Legal Aid presented to Acequias of the San Francisco River in Catron NM

The New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) has joined a local acequia in a case currently before the New Mexico Court of Appeals. On January 9, 2018, the Court of Appeals approved the filing of an amicus brief (friend of the court) filed by the NMAA and other parties in the case Parkview Community Ditch v. Peper.  “In our brief, we are urging the court to allow acequias and land grants to continue the historic and cultural practice of conducting meetings in Spanish,” said Paula Garcia, Executive Director of the NMAA.

Parkview Community Ditch is in Tierra Amarilla, a village in rural Northern New Mexico, known for its enduring fight to protect its natural resources for the community, including those within the historic Tierra Amarilla Land Grant.  A district court ruling affirmed the cultural practice of conducting meetings in Spanish, but that decision was appealed. Now, the NMAA has joined Parkview in its fight at the Court of Appeals to defend their right to hold meetings in Spanish. The brief recounts New Mexico’s complex history of protections in the New Mexico Constitution for Spanish-speaking inhabitants.

In a statement, Joseph Piña, Commissioner of the Parkview Community Ditch said, “Our acequia appreciates NMAA’s help and support on finally resolving this issue.  All this lawsuit has done is cause unnecessary stress and placed an additional financial burden on our members.  In the end, it’s a lose-lose, even if we win.  We spent all this money and time when we could’ve been spending it on the acequia and irrigating.  We’re just looking forward to putting this behind us.  We just want to focus on what we’re good at and what we’ve learned to do since we were young – we’re farmers.”

The NMAA’s legal team that prepared the amicus brief includes longstanding partner New Mexico Legal Aid, represented by David Benavides, Esq. “After centuries of acequia meetings being conducted in the language of the local community, we were alarmed that someone would sue an acequia on these grounds,” said Benavides. “If any entity should reflect the community, the culture, and its people, it should be the local acequia.”

Law students from the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic at the UNM Law School were part of the legal team that represented the amici. “As clinical law students, we were grateful for the opportunity to represent New Mexico acequias and land grants in an important brief that seeks to preserve the Spanish language and culture of New Mexico,” said Bryan Gonzalez, the lead clinical law student. Bryan and eight other clinical students worked on the brief over two semesters. The clinic provides a broad range of legal services on natural resource and environmental issues to low-income and underrepresented communities throughout New Mexico.

Larry J. Montaño and Charlie S. Baser, of Holland & Hart LLP’s Santa Fe office, joined New Mexico Legal Aid and the UNM clinical law students in representing the amici pro bono. “We feel privileged to have been able to help on this important matter” said Mr. Montaño and Ms. Baser. “New Mexico is a unique and special place, due in large part to its living, deep-rooted cultural traditions. This appeal seeks to protect, perpetuate, and celebrate one of its richest traditions.”  Parkview Community Ditch is represented by Sanchez Law Group (Daniel J. Sanchez, Esq.).

Joining the  New Mexico Acequia Association in the brief include the New Mexico Land Grant Council, Acequia Larga de Las Cruces, Merced del Pueblo de Chilili, Merced del Pueblo de San Joaquin del Rio Chama, and Acequia Madre del Llano.


Inter-basin Water Transfers: San Augustin Plains

No Water Here Means No Hunting, No Ranching, Stop the Drilling! -Activism of the San Augustin Basin Coalition

Written by Carol Pittman

I had never thought much about inter-basin transfers until a private corporation, the Augustin Plains Ranch LLC, applied to pump 54,000 acre feet of water per year from the Augustin Plains basin.  Our property borders the Augustin Plains Ranch.  The idea of removing that much water each year and transporting it to the Albuquerque urban area was surprising and alarming.  We were amazed that anyone thought that much water could be pumped from our semi-arid basin.

Our economy in northern Catron County is based on ranching and hunting.  Animals, like human beings, need water to survive:  agua es vida – water is life.  What do we as a community need to do to understand the implications of the plan to take away so much water?  To that end we asked several questions we felt must be answered before any serious consideration of such a large interbasin transfer could be taken seriously by the Office of the State Engineer.

The first question we asked is, “How much water is actually available in the Augustin Plains aquifer?”  No one is sure.

To answer that question, the hydrology of the basin must be understood.  Other important questions, similarly, can be answered only by understanding the hydrology of the basin.  Key among those is knowledge of the basin’s ability to recharge adequately.  Will there be water indefinitely because there is adequate recharge each year?  We are in the process of gathering all available information, which is somewhat scarce at this time.

A second question is, “How much water is actually needed now and in the future in the basin of origin?  Will an overly generous provision of water elsewhere engender waste and inefficient use of water?”

Predicting future water needs is tricky, of course, but the ability of our area to thrive will depend upon adequate water supplies, as might the health of the recipient area.  Is the enhancement of a recipient area worth depriving a more rural area of its natural endowment of water?

Quite often managers in the “go to” place can find other means, such as conservation, to provide water adequate for its needs.  Water managers have been surprised and gratified by conservation measures that have been successful beyond their expectations, and Albuquerque continues to find adequate water with methods that do not cause harm to other communities.

Third we need to ask, “To what degree are water rights in the Augustin Plains basin threatened by the proposed transfer, and is it worth it?  How much impairment is fair or even tolerable?  To date there is no adequate definition of impairment, and each case is decided by the State Engineer on essentially subjective grounds.  We feel that a legal definition of impairment is essential and hope to get legislation to that effect before the Legislature.

Perhaps the most essential question of all is — How do we use water from a finite source so that it best satisfies the needs and the rights of all concerned?  Certainly inter-basin transfers must recognize the needs of both rural and urban areas.  Politicians tend to emphasize the needs of wants of more populated and more economically productive areas.  Now legislation has been introduced in our legislature which more strongly emphasizes the rights of rural communities.   But it has not been successful, and so far emphasis has remained on urban needs.    As reported by the Utton Center, “In New Mexico, a recent failed attempt to pass legislation regulating inter-basin transfers highlighted both the perceived lack of regulation of large transfers and the institutional unwillingness to add hurdles, especially cost, for water transfer applications.  In the absence of such legislation, New Mexico’s legal landscape contains limited roadblocks to inter-basin transfers.”[i]   This must change.

The underlying question in all of this is “What is it we want for our communities, both urban and rural, both now and in the future?”  Remember, water taken from one area is almost always irretrievable in that area.  If water can be taken from our rural area in northern Catron County it can set a precedent for transporting water from all rural communities.  Is it not essential to protect the rights and needs of small groups as well as those of large groups?  Overriding the rights of the few for the benefit of a larger group (in our case for the profits of a corporation) will not benefit New Mexico communities of any size.

[i] From the Utton Center Report on Inter-basin Water Transfers, Water Matters, p. 19-2, 2015.  http://uttoncenter.unm.edu/pdfs/water-matters-2015/2015-water-matters.pdf

300 March In Celebration Of Acequias

Paula Garcia leading the Rally to the Roundhouse – Photo taken by Eddie Moore, Albuquerque Journal

On Thursday, January 25th 2018 three-hundred farmers, ranchers and advocates marched to the state capitol to celebrate the economic and cultural contributions of acequias. After a beautiful march with shovels and songs led my Dr. David García and Jerimiah Martinez 30 acequia leaders who represent their respective acequia regions were recognized on the rostrum. The Rally was opened by our Sembrando Semillas youth and followed by a moving speech given by Don Bustos. NMAA was honored to have Peter Vigil, District Manager of the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District present about the ongoing revitalization and infrastructure projects being piloted in his district followed by testimonies from Acequia del Monte del Rio Chiquito and the Rio Fernando Revitalization group who have created unique collaborations to get these projects completed. The rotunda was filled with partners, collaborators and other environmental organizations who gathered in solidarity for acequias!

Don Bustos presents at Acequia Day 2018 -Photo taken by Eddie Moore, Albuquerque Journal

Muchisima gracia to all the farmers and acequia leaders who traveled near and far to participate with us on this special day, we hope you can join us next year!

NMAA wants to give a special thanks to Teresa’s Tamales who fed everyone a delicious lunch after the rally! We also want to recognize our partners and sponsors Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, Taos Valley Acequia Association, TEWA Women United, NMACD, New Mexico Acequia Commission, Rio Fernando Revitalization Group, South West Center for Research, Sol Soliz Farm.

NMAA also wants to thank in a special way Evalina Montoya who donated her art for our 2018 Acequia Day Buttons.

Acequias continue to demonstrate resilience in the face of these changing times, as communities hold tight to the values, beauty, and way of life that acequias provide!


Que Vivan las Acequais!


NMAA Receives Award: NM Food & Farms Day

Los Sembradores Working the Rows in Chamisal, NM -Photo taken by Donne Gonzales
The NM Acequia Association is honored to receive
 the Organization of the Year Award!
NMAA accepts the Organization of the Year award on behalf of our collaboration with close partners. The American Friends Service Committee has been a long-time, cherished partner in our work for a just food system, creating a model that connects legislative funding, farmers and schools. NMAA is honored to be a part of the collaborative with AFSC, La Cosecha del Norte Coop and our own Sembradores Farmer Training Program, getting locally grown food to our local school children.
New Mexico Food & Farms Day and New Mexico School Nutrition Day at the Legislature were created to bring individuals and groups together around food, farming, and health issues, programs and initiatives – from private and public sectors and policymakers. The Day provides an opportunity to share in and show the relationships between the health of our communities and food, farm and health related programs; ways we are working together to increase affordable and healthful food access; to support farmers whose food is produced in New Mexico that contributes to the health and economy of individuals, families, and our communities; encouraging entrepreneurship and leadership; to highlight the benefits of cooperation and coordination; and, the policy intersections. The Day highlights the efforts among those who have chosen to participate to work together towards the health and economic well-being of individuals, families and communities in New Mexico.
 Join us! Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Agenda at a Glance:
Location: NM State Capitol, corner of Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe
9:00am – 9:45am Awards Ceremony in the Rotunda:
NM Food & Farms Day and NM School Nutrition Day Presentations
3rd Annual Local Food and Farm to School Awards
10:00am Education and Advocacy Options will be provided
12:30 – 2pm NM Food & Farms Day & NM Farm to School Network Lunch!
Location: Rio Chama Restaurant next to the Capitol,
414 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe. Reservations required.
2:30 – 5:30pm NM and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Round Table Presentations and Discussions
For information and ways to participate please call:
Pam Roy, Farm to Table

505-660-8403 and pam@farmtotablenm.org 

Acequias Rally at the Roundhouse

Acequia Leaders Marching to the Roundhouse 2017 -Photo taken by Seth Roffman

Acequia farmers and leaders will come together on Thursday, January 25th at the State Capitol for Acequia Day 2018. Acequias will be recognized by the State Legislature for their cultural and economic contributions to New Mexico. “On Acequia Day, we celebrate acequias as the lifeblood of our communities. Acequias are dynamic, living systems with engaged members,” said Paula Garcia, NMAA Executive Director. “Acequia leadership is requesting that policymakers work with acequias to develop opportunities for profitable agriculture that will allow farms and communities to thrive,” added Harold Trujillo, NMAA Board President.

Don Bustos, NMAA Board Member and recipient of the James Beard Award for his work in support of farmers’ rights and education, will present about the role of acequias in local economic development. NMAA is also excited to have American Friends Service Committee shine the spotlight on farm to school initiatives and successful ongoing farmer training programs.

Peter Vigil, District Manager of the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District will share success stories on pathways for acequia infrastructure and watershed restoration in his district. Local acequias within the Taos basin will present on behalf of partnerships, successful projects and organizing initiatives. There will be music, food, and poets in celebration of our precious water and ways of life!

Acequia parciantes, youth, and supporters are invited for the march at 10:00am and to the Senate and House floor sessions at 10:30am where a memorial will be presented.  Acequia leaders will be recognized by the State Legislature for centuries of water management in New Mexico.

Join acequia commissioners and mayordomos from various local acequias as they march to protect water rights, address drought and water scarcity, and promote funding acequia infrastructure. We ask everyone to bring along their families with shovels to the march!

“Acequias have fed our communities for the past 400 years. Today, we face challenges related to drought, development, and social and economic changes,” said Garcia. “Acequias continue to demonstrate resilience in the face of these changing times, as communities hold tight to the values, beauty, and way of life that acequias provide.”


9:00am- 9:45am                 Orientation, Snacks – Garrett’s Desert Inn

10:00am                               March to the Roundhouse

10:30am                               House and Senate Floor Sessions – Gallery

12:00am                               Acequia Day Celebration at the Rotunda

1:30pm                                 Closing

Interstate Stream Commission Members Resign

Three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) abruptly resigned in October. The ISC is a Governor-appointed body that oversees the agency charged with protecting, conserving, and developing the state’s waters along with ensuring compliance with interstate water compacts. One of the members who resigned, Jim Dunlap, expressed concern that the State Engineer was not regarding the ISC as a separate and district agency from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE). The two agencies are intertwined water management agencies and have roles that are sometimes conflicting. The OSE approves permits for drilling, appropriations, and water transfers which sometimes puts that agency in conflict with the role of the ISC to protect waters of the state. Dunlap cited concerns over the recent turnover in the staff at the Interstate Stream Commission and related concerns over the need to distinguish between the roles of the ISC and OSE.

Udall, Heinrich Introduce Legislation to Help Acequias and Land Grants Better Access Federal Conservation Programs

Gilbert Borrego stands proudly in front of the new dam for Acequia Alto del Norte in Mora, NM -Photo taken by Paula Garcia

U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced a bill to help acequias and land grants in New Mexico access additional federal resources for water and resource conservation projects. The bill, Providing Land Grants and Acequias Conservation and Environmental Services (PLACES) Act of 2017, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, will allow acequias and land grants access to federal programs that provide funding and technical assistance to farmers to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water and other natural resources.

Santolina and the ABCWUA

On September 15, 2017, the State Auditor sent a letter to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA) questioning its handling of the giant Santolina development.   The project would house upwards of 90,000 people and would require nearly 20 million gallons of water per day, at least 20 schools, and two I-40 interchanges.   The total number of acre feet per year required for the development is 14,000 acre feet of water.  Despite constant and frequent calls from concerned water advocates, the Bernalillo County Commission has allowed the proposal to continue through the permitting process without a concrete plan on where the water for the development will come from.  While not directly addressing the lack of a water plan, the State Auditor is concerned about potential violations of the anti-donation clause of the New Mexico Constitution and the Water and Wastewater Expansion Ordinance in the ABCWUA’s handling of Santolina’s proposal.  The ABCWUA is required to address the State Auditor’s concerns in its next audit.

Rio Gallinas Acequias – City of Las Vegas

Gabriel Estrada presenting at the 18th Annual Congreso on behalf of the acequias on the Rio Gallinas -Photo taken by Seth Roffman

The Special Master presiding over the Rio Gallinas adjudication has issued a sixty-eight page draft report recommending an equitable remedy following the abolishment of the pueblo rights doctrine, a doctrine of law that the City of Las Vegas asserted for many decades as the basis for its claim that it is senior to all other appropriators, even the acequias whose priority dates are between 1848 and 1872.  In his report, the Special Master recommends that 1200 acre feet per year (AFY) of the City’s 2600 AFY (previously owned by PNM with a priority date of 1881) be adjudicated a priority date of 1835, the year the land grant was made.  The City’s 1835 water rights (1200 AFY) leapfrog over all of the acequia rights and have first priority in the whole system.  The acequias have 2nd priority and are senior to the City’s 1881 water rights, and other water right owners including the Gallinas Canal Company and the Storrie Project.  To “compensate” the acequias for leapfrogging the City’s 1200 AFY to 1st priority, the Special Master would have the City pay $1.7 million.  The payment would be made to individual parciantes, not to the acequias.  This comes out to about $2,000 per acre.  A final report will be filed with the district court and is subject to objections by the parties.